There was a moment during Paradise Lost’s landmark (and only) UK performance of ‘Draconian Times’ that my friend, who had accompanied me to the show and who had started listening to the band at roughly the same time as me, turned to me and said “I’ve been waiting half my life for this show,” with a simple matter-of-factness that was far from the mere hyperbole that journalists are so often known for. I considered this for a moment and realised that what he said was probably true for a good proportion of the assembled mass who packed out Kentish Town Forum for this very special performance and you couldn’t escape the feeling that in a few years time there’ll be an awful lot of people who will claim to have been there far above and beyond the ecstatic crowd who actually attended because this was the sort of gig from which legends are created.
So, ‘Draconian Times’… It seems odd, now, looking back at the time in which the album was made and realising just how big Paradise Lost actually became for a while. The year was 1995 and Grunge had been and gone leaving a large miserable smear across the face of music and plenty of metal bands feeling more than a little disenfranchised. Metallica were four years after the mighty ‘Black album’ and already worrying rumours were surfacing about the content of ‘Load’. Paradise Lost’s nearest doomy competition, My Dying Bride, had just released the monstrous ‘The angel and the dark river’ and the band themselves were coming off the back of ‘Icon’ which had seen them tour with Sepultura on the hugely successful ‘Chaos AD tour’ reaching more fans than ever before. Without a pause Paradise Lost returned to the studio with producer Simon Efemey and proceeded to lay down the most streamlined, accessible album they had recorded to date drawing instant and favourable comparisons to Metallica and gaining a chart position of 16, the highest the band ever gained. The subsequent tour saw the band take in Europe, South America and Asia and it would be two years before the band unleashed ‘one second’ which saw a significant shift in the band’s core sound and a dabbling with electronica that ultimately resulted in the perennially underrated ‘Host’. Draconian Times’, it is fair to say, represented the commercial peak of Paradise Lost’s output and if they’ve bettered that album subsequently it still retains a firm place in fans’ hearts as this very special show demonstrated.
To look at Kentish Town forum you’d imagine it the perfect venue for a staging of ‘Draconian Times’. A huge, converted cinema building it is both satisfyingly dark and gothic whilst providing one of the best views of the stage (even from the back) that can be found anywhere. Stupefyingly hot and rammed to the rafters with a black clad horde of Paradise Lost fans, it is hard to move and occasionally even hard to breathe but the sensible location of the bars means that the flow of people moving around the venue is fairly unrestricted and even from our precarious position somewhere near the back we could see the stage clearly. One thing, however, lets The Forum down: the sound and it is on this ground that Paradise Lost must battle for a good deal of the night. True, singer Nick Holmes does not quite have the range that he had back in 1995 (a fact he references during a performance that see him far chattier than usual and with his typically mordant wit firmly to the fore) but this is surely not helped by a terrible, bass-heavy sound that sees the guitars rumble where in Simon Efemey’s masterful mix they sliced, and the vocals all but buried – the sound engineers on the night should hang their heads in shame. This is not so for the band who put in a masterful performance of a classic and much loved album blasting out tracks such as ‘Forever Failure’ (a song I have yearned to see since I first encountered it in 1995), ‘Shadow Kings’ and ‘Jaded’ (although the latter suffered terribly from the aforementioned vocal problems) with all the passion and precision of a band playing the tracks for the first time. With the crowd often drowning out the band with enthusiastic singing the atmosphere is positively electric and each track is greeted with an almighty cheer even though everyone in the venue knows exactly what is coming next and all around the room you can see long time PL fans exchanging misty-eyed glances with their friends and colleagues as if they too have been waiting half a life time for this particular gig.
With the whole of ‘Draconian Times’ smashed through in just under an hour the band leave the stage for a brief interval before returning for a run through a few hits to round out the night. Kicking off the second half with the sombre, beautiful, eloquent ‘Faith Divides us – death unites us’ the band also hammer out ‘true belief’ and then the ever-green classics ‘One second’ and ‘say just words’ both of which see the netting-clad gent next to me writhing in near ecstasy. The tracks have lost none of their power and even after the extraordinarily high calibre of the DT material nothing sounds weak or out of place – Paradise Lost know how to balance a set list and with Nick Holmes on such excellent form, leading the crowd very much from the front it’s impossible not to get caught up in the moment. A generous second encore sees a brutal rendition of ‘The rise of denial’ from ‘Faith divides us…’ Icon’s ‘Sweetness’ and the epic finale of ‘As I die’ rounding out a night that will no doubt live on in the minds of all those there and which will soon be available for those who missed it in the form of a DVD release (yep, they were filming it).
What more is there to say? Well, as nights go this has to be one of the most anticipated events of my year (along with Roger Waters doing the Wall and the My Dying Bride ‘Albion in Ruins’ tour) and it largely did not disappoint. Certainly the band did not disappoint, turning in a tight, polished performance which saw a clearly fired up Nick Holmes battle sound gremlins with a steely determination and genuine enthusiasm reflected by the packed out Forum. The sound, however, is another matter and you wonder how a venue sponsored by a giant company such as HMV can be so damn sloppy, particularly when it transpires that this was not a one-off problem but a fairly regular feature for a venue that clearly doesn’t care too much about anything beyond bar profits and bums-on-seats. That said, nothing was going to destroy the night and while crystal clear sound would have been a bonus, nothing was going to detract from standing in one of the most enthusiastic crowds I have witnessed in the UK for a long time, watching one of my favourite bands perform the first album I ever bought by them in its entirety as well as a smattering of classic songs from their impeccable back catalogue. Paradise Lost were truly awesome last night and I am proud indeed to have been there.
The Last Time
Yearn For Change
Shades Of God
Hands Of Reason
I See Your Face
Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us
Say Just Words
The Rise Of Denial
As I Die